Missouri S&T students conducting research for NASA

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On December 19, 2023

Ashton Ventura, a metallurgical engineering student, cleans the surface of a titanium sample before spot-welding a thermocouple. Photo courtesy of Ashton Ventura.

Seventeen students from Missouri S&T are conducting NASA-funded research that may directly affect the space agency’s work. 

These students are interns and fellows as part of the Missouri Space Grant Consortium, which is administered by Missouri S&T.  

Since the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program was established in 1989, Missouri S&T has led the NASA initiative for the state of Missouri for most of its existence. NASA has one program for each of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington D.C., with the goal of further developing the nation’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related workforce. 

“The students in our space grant program are working on some fascinating projects,” says Dr. K.M. Isaac, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering and director of the Missouri Space Grant Consortium. “They are working to solve real-world problems, and they will report their findings for NASA to consider.” 

S&T has 13 undergraduate students serving as paid interns this year and four graduate students completing fellowships. 

Fourteen colleges and universities throughout the state are part of the consortium, as well as one K-12 school, but more students come from S&T than any other institution. Every spring, the interns and fellows from the different schools meet at Missouri S&T to present their findings. 

“What I appreciate about this program is that it allows me to apply what I learn in my classes in real-life scenarios,” says Ashton Ventura, a junior in metallurgical engineering from Joplin, Missouri. “When people ask when we will need to know a specific skill, I can provide them with examples from my work.” 

Ventura says he is studying how titanium reacts to impact testing in the extreme temperatures experienced in space and when reentering Earth’s atmosphere. 

Alex Schumacher, a sophomore in engineering management from St. Louis, says working for NASA has been his dream for as long as he can remember. 

“Some of my earliest memories I have relate to me wondering about space and knowing I wanted to somehow work in this field,” he says. “Now, I am working as a program manager and receiving NASA funding for a project involving two satellites that will eventually be launched into space. This is an amazing opportunity, and it allows me to take my work for the Missouri S&T Satellite Research Team to the next level.” 

The satellites Schumacher is working on are named the Missouri-Rolla (MR) Satellite and the Missouri-Rolla Second Satellite (MRS), and the project is referred to as MR & MRS SAT. He says the team plans to launch the satellites in a few years, with MR SAT orbiting MRS SAT in space – allowing them to study proximity operations. 

Justin Viers, a junior in aerospace engineering from Dexter, Missouri, says he has long had his eyes on the sky. 

Viers is involved with research focusing on a method for producing metal on the moon. This method uses a type of electrolysis to derive aluminum from anorthite, which is a material that is in large supply on the moon. 

In the spring 2024 semester, Viers says he may also support projects related to electrospray propulsion and other issues that would be on NASA’s radar.   

Another student, Lucas Scott, is putting the university’s plasma chamber to work.  

Scott, a master’s degree student in aerospace engineering from Kearney, Missouri, is working to ensure the chamber, which allows researchers to simulate the vacuum of space, is in prime condition and providing accurate data. 

He says his work will allow S&T to continue to be a go-to university for NASA to fund future research related to low-earth orbit. 

“And we have several other students who are also completing work that is out of this world,” says Isaac. “I am excited to see the final reports our current S&T interns and fellows produce, and I know NASA will be as well.” 

For more information about the Missouri Space Grant Consortium, visit missourispacegrant.mst.edu.

More about Missouri S&T

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.

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